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Zulgad: Willingness to adjust makes John DeFilippo the right hire for Vikings

Norv Turner was hired as Mike Zimmer’s first offensive coordinator with the Vikings in large part because the first-time head coach wanted to focus his energies on defense and sought a veteran play-caller who had an idea of exactly what he wanted when it came to the offensive system he would be run.

It quickly became clear that this wasn’t entirely a good thing.

Turner knew exactly what he wanted, but didn’t seem to be all that flexible toward making adjustments to highlight the talent of the personnel he was given. In 2015, Turner seemed intent on focusing his scheme around running back Adrian Peterson, despite the fact the priority should have been to feature young quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

When Turner walked away after seven games in 2016, the offensive coordinator duties were turned over to Pat Shurmur. Shurmur served in this role for the final nine games of that season and then was the play-caller for the Vikings’ 14-4 run in 2017.

The thing that immediately became clear with Shurmur – and one of the things that helped him get the New York Giants’ head coaching job – was his willingness to adapt to what his players did well. This wasn’t going to be his show with a bunch of guys who were going to fit his system or not see playing time.

Shurmur spent last offseason designing an offense that played to the strengths of quarterback Sam Bradford. But when Bradford was basically lost for the season after the first game because of a knee injury, Shurmur was able to adjust his offense to what backup Case Keenum did well.

Zimmer always has believed in coaching to his players’ strengths on the defensive side of the ball and now he had found someone with a similar thought process when it came to offense. That’s why Zimmer took his time in picking Shurmur’s replacement.

The Vikings landed on John DeFilippo. The Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks coach for the past two seasons, the 39-year-old DeFilippo was introduced to the Twin Cities media via a conference call on Friday. This came less than a week after the Eagles upset the Patriots in the Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium, doing so with backup quarterback Nick Foles earning MVP honors for the game. Foles took over late in the season after MVP-candidate Carson Wentz was lost to a knee injury.

DeFilippo was asked if there was one particular thing he shared with Foles before the playoffs that paid off with victories over the Falcons, Vikings and Patriots. His response sounded very similar to something Shurmur might have said.

“I sat him down and made him list me, with our coaching staff, what are your best concepts, what do you see yourself do well?” DeFilippo said. “Because I’m not, myself, (Eagles offensive coordinator) Frank Reich, (head coach) Doug Pederson are not throwing the ball. He is.

“And so, we really sat down and spent some time with Nick and formulated game plans based on what he felt comfortable doing. And to me that’s coaching. Why would you ask your player to do something that he’s not comfortable with? Nick was open and honest about things he wasn’t comfortable with and things that he was comfortable with.”

This response had to bring a smile to Zimmer’s face.

This won’t be DeFilippo’s first stint as an offensive coordinator in the NFL. He held the job with the 2015 Cleveland Browns, who finished 3-13.  Head coach Mike Pettine and his staff, including DeFilippo, were fired after the season.

The Browns used three starting quarterbacks, including Josh McCown (eight starts), Johnny Manziel (six starts) and Austin Davis (two starts), but still managed to get 4,155 passing yards from the trio, the fourth-most in franchise history. It also marked the fourth team in team history that Cleveland threw for 4,000 yards and rushed for 1,500 yards in the same season.

DeFilippo will be hoping the Vikings can settle on one quarterback for 2018, whether that be bringing back free-agents-to-be Case Keenum or Teddy Bridgewater or going outside the organization to find a replacement. (The guess here is there will be no attempt to re-sign free-agent Sam Bradford.)

DeFilippo will play a role in picking the Vikings’ starting quarterback and then making sure his scheme and play-calling best fits the strengths of that QB. This would seem like a no-brainer, only we have seen offensive coaches who have mandated that the players make the adjustments instead of vice versa.

Shurmur showed us what applying logic to the situation can do for a quarterback and his offense.

The expectation is that DeFilippo will do the same.

  • cka2nd

    A fine profile of DeFilippo and absolutely correct statement in favor of flexible coordinators. But…

    “In 2015, Turner seemed intent on focusing his scheme around running back Adrian Peterson, despite the fact the priority should have been to feature young quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.”

    The 2014 team had finished 7-9 with a rookie QB, a mediocre running game, a terrible offensive line (nine percent of all pass plays ended in a sack, tied for fourth worst in the league), and a mediocre receiving corps whose leader was cut in the off-season. Neither the line nor the wide receivers looked to be that much better in 2015, unless you thought Matt Kalil was finally going to turn it around or that Mike Wallace was going to return to his glory days as a Steeler. Yet you are one of the many geniuses who thought that Turner should have focused on Bridgewater the next season while basically sidelining a future Hall of Fame running back who was coming back from a season lost not to injury but to a non-health related suspension?

    Not following the advice of you and the other geniuses, the 2015 team finished 11-5, made the playoffs with a second-year QB, a terrible offensive line (a second straight season with a Sack Rate of 9%, now risen to second worst rate in the league) and a wide receiving corps led by a rookie who started nine games. And, of by the way, the running back who you all thought should have been deemphasized who just happened to lead the league in rushing, scored 11 TD’s on the ground, averaged 4.5 yards per rush (.2 yards above the league average), made the Pro Bowl and was a first-team All-Pro. Focusing the offense on Peterson likely protected Bridgewater, the offensive line, which had only two good performers, neither at tackle, and the defense. Featuring Peterson probably kept Bridgewater upright a good 10 more times than if they had thrown the ball as many times as the 2014 team had. I am more than open-minded if you want to argue that Turner should have adjusted his passing plays to better fit Bridgewater’s and the OL’s abilities, and Peterson’s very real faults as a football player have been discussed exhaustively on this site and many others, but to cling to the idea that the 2015 team would have been better with more Bridgewater passes and fewer Peterson runs flies in the face of the reality of the quality of that offensive line, those wide receivers and Peterson, himself.

    • Gordon Guffey

      cka2nd am I misunderstanding you ~ ???

      Mike Wallace has had good seasons before and after his year with the Vikings ~ Was it Teddy not being able to get the ball to Wallace deep or was it Norv Turner and his play calling ??? ~ My guess it was a 50/50 kind of thing ~ Wallace wasis a fine deep threat and Teddy has yet to show he is good at throwing the deep balls ~

      Teddy didn’t have the best talent to work with but he had better talent than Bradford on the OL and RB ~ Wallace had 862 yards the year before he played with Teddy and 930 yards the year before that ~ Wallace went on to have a 1017 yard season the year after he left Teddy and the Vikings and followed that up with 748 yard season after that playing through some injuries for him and his QB ~ Wallace had 473 playing with Teddy ~ So I dont think its fair to throw blame on Wallace unless I miss understood what your saying ~ He has been as good or almost as good as Diggs and Thielen were in 2018 and he wasis a much better deep threat ~ And the OL played well enough to help AP gain close to 1500 yards so they were not like the OL that let Bradford get hammered nor did Bradfords OL open holes for the RB like they did for AP ~

      I do agree with you on Norv ~ I am no fan of his or his son Scott who he brought along with him to the Panthers as Cam’s new QB coach ~ Yeah I think thats going to get ugly and might lead to a new HC if he pull the same version of his Kick A$$ Offense where its always run~run~pass then punt ~ When Norv was hired I thought the Vikings had finally landed a good to great OC ~ But something seem to happen between the Browns and Vikings ~ Like the game past him by ~

      I do agree AP running on what seemed like every 1st and 2nd down help keep Teddy upright for sure using Norv’s version of Chilly’s Kick A$$ Offense ~ LOL ~ I can laugh now ~ As for AP running ~ What he did was pull 8 and 9 men into the box ~ Be it Teddy or Norv neither made good use of so many players in the box ~ Teddy has yet to show he is a good deep ball thrower but he was a very good shot to mid range QB ~ Is that what the Spielman~Zimmer and now DeFilippo want as their starting QB ~ ???

      And I have seen the YouTube highlight videos of Teddy ~ They could make one just as good or better of Case and Sam if someone took the time to put one together ~ And I’m sure someone will once Case signs his new contract where ever that might be ~ ??? The OL and RB’s were much worse for Bradford in 2016 ~ How he stayed healthy is a miracle with those knees ~ I thought he had finally kicked his injury bug to the curd after staying healthy with the Eagles in 2015 and then with the beating he took playing behind the Vikings OL in 2016 ~ Boy was I wrong ~ But I was hoping ~

      Its going to be a fun offseason and I look forward to watching it all play out ~ No matter who the QB is I’m backing him even if he isn’t my pick of the bunch ~ I’m hoping they can find a true #3 WR ~ It was sorely missing last year ~ Hopefully they can find a very good 3 Tech DT and a replacement for McKinnon along with better depth along the OL ~ A deep threat TE would be nice also ~ Between the draft and cap space for FA it could be another fine offseason if Rob B. can once again work his magic with the cap ~

      • cka2nd

        Offensive Line: The 2016 OL was NOT “much worse” than the 2015 OL. I believe that Pro Football Focus actually rated the 2015 line as worse than the 2016 line, at least in terms of pass blocking, and the respective sack rates – 9% in 2015, 6.1% in 2016 – would seem to bear that out. On the other hand, the running game completely collapsed in 2016, with Peterson, McKinnon, Hillman and Asiata all averaging the lowest yards per rush of their careers (not including Asiata’s 3 rushes for 9 yards in his rookie season). Not that the 2015 line of Kalil-Fusco-Berger-Harris-Clemmings was great at run blocking – we all remember how many times Peterson was met at or behind the line
        of scrimmage – but, on balance, the 2015 OL was better at run blocking while the 2016 OL was, believe it or not, actually better at pass blocking (Boone certainly ranked higher than Fusco at LG, and I think Sirles scored a bit better at RT than Clemmings had the year before). In any case, it is probably fair to say that the Vikings have never had a worse three-year run on the OL than from 2014-2016.

        Mike Wallace: I wasn’t so much blaming Wallace for not improving the wide receivers group as saying that he (67 for 862 yds and 10 TD’s for Miami in 2014) wasn’t going to be that much of an improvement over Greg Jennings (59 for 742 and 6 for us in 2014). He certainly seemed to blame Bridgewater more than Turner for his woes in Minnesota, though you can take that with a grain of salt. As for being a deep threat, he’s scored four TD’s each of the last two years, which ain’t much on 124 receptions. Thielen was ranked highly as a deep threat by PFF in 2016, and I think Diggs proved this year that he’s at least as much of a deep threat as Wallace is now, too.

        • Gordon Guffey

          I wasn’t knocking our WR’s but pointing out that Wallace was much more productive when he wasn’t with the Vikings ~ And I dont tie being a deep threat to TD’s ~ While its nice to get those TD’s ~ But when you move the ball close enough for someone to score a TD on a long pass play to get you to that point then in my book your still a deep threat ~ We will have to agree to disagree on the OL ~ You know as well as I do how many different starting combos we had and how many times we had some playing out of place ~ It was like 8 or 9 ~ The Vikings had what 3 different starting left and right OT’s ~ Two different starters everywhere else ~ That running game sure did help bring those extra defensive guys into the box though ~

          Oh and I’m also counting the knock downs of the QB in 2015 and 2016 into account ~

          Like I said I’m sticking with it being 5050 on Teddy and Norv as to the root of the problem ~ A lot of sports writers want to tie Teddy to Zimmer like it makes them a special link of some kind ~ But it was Norv and his son Scott who scouted and pushed for his drafting ~ I dont believe Zimmer or Spielman will have any problem moving on from any of last years QB’s if thats what they feel is best for the team ~ There is no special like to Teddy nor did they go out and sign a OC to fit Teddy ~ They got a OC who can make use of any of the 3 if they are healthy ~ I dont have a dog in this fight and would be just fine if they went a got some vet from another team while drafting someone in the first 2 or 3 rounds ~ That being said if they bring back any of last years QB or a combo of the 3 I will be just fine ~ I’m trusting Spielman and the coaching staff to know much more than I do about whats best for the team ~ However you know when JuggHead and Coller talk stupid I’m coming after them ~ LOL Smiley Face 🙂

    • linus

      I, like Gordon, disagree with some of the specifics in your post, but the broader point is correct. The 2015 Vikings went 11-5, won the division (over a Packers team that, unlike this past season, had a healthy Aaron Rodgers), and were a 27-yard FG away from winning a playoff game. So it’s kinda stupid to argue that he was wrong to feature Peterson over Bridgewater.

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